LONDON — Playing just its third rugby test match in two years, Canada showed its mettle with a determined first-half performance against top-ranked England on Sunday.
The third-ranked Canadian women led 7-5 early, putting up a stiff fight before fading in the second half of a 51-12 loss.
After a second Canadian try cut the English lead to 15-12, the Red Roses notched a try on the stroke of halftime before outscoring Canada 31-0 after the break, taking advantage of their experienced bench and exploiting holes in the Canadian defence.
"The energy was high and the effort was there in the first half," said Canada coach Sandro Fiorino. "I thought the first 38 minutes were strong.
"The key for us was the execution. A few too many mistakes, too many penalties. Obviously against a great team like England, they capitalize on those. We just couldn't get back in the game in the second half."
Canada now faces No. 11 Wales next Sunday in Cardiff, where the Welsh women downed No. 13 South Africa 29-19 on Saturday. England hosts the sixth-ranked U.S.
Heather Cowell, on her debut, Sarah Bern and Claudia MacDonald scored two tries each, and Alex Matthews added a single for England, which led 20-12 at the half at the Twickenham Stoop. Zoe Harrison added four conversions and two penalties while Helena Rowland booted a conversion.
Paige Farries and Sabrina Poulin scored tries for Canada. Brianna Miller added a conversion.
Canadian front-rower Laura Russell came off the bench in the second half to earn her 50th cap.
The Canadians were coming off 15-9 and 26-13 wins over the sixth-ranked U.S. last week in Glendale, Colo., to win the inaugural World Rugby Pacific Four Series. It was the first test matches for both countries since meeting in November 2019 at the Can-Am Series in Chula Vista, Calif.
Sunday's test was the 10th for England since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The Red Roses beat New Zealand 56-15 and 43-12 prior to facing Canada.
"That was a tough game," said England coach Simon Middleton. "We knew it was going to be tough. Really, really physical."
"They're just a good side," he added of the Canadians. "I wouldn't take anything anyway from them. They were exactly what we thought they were going to be. And a bit more."
England controlled from the kickoff and, after a pair of penalties near the Canadian try-line, went over in the fourth minute when Rowland's long pass found Cowell alone on the wing for a 5-0 lead.
Canada fought its way down the length of the field, helped by a driving maul, but botched a lineout near the English try-line after kicking to touch from a penalty. The Canadians laid down a marker by winning a scrum penalty in the 15th minute, only to lose the ensuing lineout.
Farries intercepted an English pass and outraced her chasers to put Canada on the board in the 22nd minute. Miller's conversion gave Canada a 7-5 lead, the first time England had trailed in the autumn internationals.
Bern bulled her way over in the 29th, bouncing off Canadian No. 8 Gabrielle Senft after a sniping run by MacDonald opened up the Canadian defence, with the try surviving video review on the grounding. Harrison's conversion stretched England's lead at 12-7.
A scrum infraction penalty against Canada's Karen Paquin led to a Harrison penalty and a 15-7 advantage in the 35th.
England mishandled the ensuing kickoff and Poulin sliced through the English defence, accelerating past centre Lagi Tuima and beating several other defenders for a fine individual try that cut the lead to 15-12.
Canada paid for a pair of penalties with time running out in the half, with Cowell beating Elissa Alarie to score in the corner. Harrison hit the post with her conversion attempt.
Bern, a five-foot-seven, 200-pound prop, scored her second try in the 42nd minute, finding a hole in the Canadian line and then running through Alarie and Miller. Harrison's conversion extended the lead to 27-12.
Canada's defence was opened again in the 51st when MacDonald, cutting away from a maul, beat Alex Tessier for a converted try under the posts and a 34-12 scoreline. Another penalty and late converted tries by Mathews and McDonald padded the English lead.
The Red Roses have now won 17 straight matches and 48 of their last 52 tests, losing only to New Zealand (2016, 2017 and 2019) and France (2018) over that period.
The English women have also won their last 25 tests on home soil, dating back to a 25-20 loss to New Zealand at The Stoop in November 2016.
England upped its all-time record against Canada to 28-3-1. It has won eight straight against Canada, dating back to a 52-17 loss in the Women’s Rugby Super Series in July 2016, and has never lost to the Canadians in 11 matches on home soil.
But the Canadian women came close in their previous meeting, losing 19-17 in July 2019 at the Women’s Rugby Super Series in Chula Vista.
Canada's starting 15 featured seven players with English or French clubs, including the entire front row of the Exeter Chiefs.
The women's teams are preparing for the World Cup in New Zealand, which was supposed to be played this year, but has been pushed back to next October due to the pandemic. Canada is in a group with the U.S., Italy and Japan.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2021